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The Case for enabling Menstrual Leave in India

The Problem:

Women face enormous difficulties during their menstrual period, the most excruciating being “Primary Dysmenorrhea” or menstrual cramps. Severe cramping, heavy bleeding, nausea and migraines are also associated with menstruation, causing tremendous difficulty and trauma to women at the workplace.
Initially frowned upon as a “women’s dilemma”, the hardships faced by women during the menstrual cycle have become a rallying cause for prominent social activists to call for “menstrual leave” on the lines of maternity leave. Currently menstrual leave is available to working women in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and certain provinces of China.

Directive Principles of State Policy:
Coming to India, just as the Maternity Benefit Act of 1961 entitles pregnant women to maternity leave. Why not pass a similar law or amend the Act and provide for menstrual leave also. It may be worth noting that the Directive Principles of State Policy enshrined in the Constitution of India contain elaborate provisions permitting the State to enact laws for the welfare of women workers. Under Article 38(2) of the Directive Principles of State Policy, the State is duty bound to minimize inequalities in income and opportunity among different classes and groups. Under Article 39 the State shall work to ensure that both men and women have the right to adequate means of livelihood, with Article 39(d) envisioning equal pay for equal work. Finally Article 42 of the Constitution makes it the duty of the state to ensure just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief.

Time to Pass a Law:
A plain reading of the Directive Principles, especially Article 42, reveals that nothing prevents the Parliament of India from enacting a law entitled working women to menstrual leave. While the Directive Principles of State Policy are themselves not enforceable in any court of law, any law passed to enforce them will be upheld as constitutionally valid. Therefore were the Parliament to pass a law regarding menstrual leave, the Indian Courts would unequivocally accept it as constitutional.
With rising social awareness about the hardships faced by women in the workplace, there is a gradual realisation among the public that menstrual problems cannot be simply brushed under the carpet. They must be addressed in the public forum by passing a law entitling women to menstrual leave. All eyes must now turn towards the Parliament which, having enacted the Maternity Benefit Act in 1961, is at an opportune moment to undo the injustice that has plagued women since time immemorial.

Abha Singh

Abha Singh is a former civil servant and presently an advocate practicing in the Bombay High Court. She is a renowned social activist who has done considerable work in the realm of woman’s rights, gender equality and justice. She has done an M.Phil on Child Rights from the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Abha Singh was the third runner-up and the lead woman finalist in the Times of India Lead India Campaign in 2008. She was further awarded the Chevening Scholarship to attend the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her talk ‘Honour Killings in India and the Legal Complications of Section 498A” at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London received widespread acclaim. Abha Singh was also invited as a speaker at TEDx Oxbridge, conducted jointly by the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge in May, 2017. Sensing the call of duty beyond service, she gave up a successful career in the Government to serve a larger cause by donning the robes of the legal profession. Abha Singh obtained a law degree from Bombay University while working as a Government. Abha Singh took up the case of the two Palghar girls in right earnest when she learnt about their unlawful arrest by the Police for innocent comments on Facebook. Due to her perseverance the guilty cops were suspended and the girls were exonerated honorably. Abha Singh has been successfully pursuing the Salman Khan Hit-and-Run case to ensure that the rule of law is upheld and the youth are educated against the hazards of drunken driving.

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